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Lord Chancellor

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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What consultations the Department has had on how long the title of Lord Chancellor will remain in existence. [121037]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Although there was no consultation in advance of the reshuffle, the Government recognise that creating a supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission will mean abolishing the current role of the Lord Chancellor. Therefore, we will consult on these changes to ensure that the final details take full account of the constitutional importance of abolishing that post.

Will the Minister now admit that this arrogant Government have handled the whole issue of the Lord Chancellor's Department appallingly? Is not the reality that the Government have held no meaningful consultations on this issue, and given the Prime Minister's complacent answer on 19 June, they have little intention of having any proper, meaningful consultation?

I have to disabuse the hon. Gentleman of his views on this matter. We will be having a full consultation: a paper will be published on 14 July and consultation will run until, I think, November. I do not know how many members of the Conservative Opposition have been consulted on their own forthcoming reshuffle. I am looking to see if there is any reaction from their colleagues on the Front Bench. No, I do not think they know what will happen in their reshuffle. The decisions have been made, we are clear about the direction we are going for, and there will be widespread consultation.

May I congratulate the two new Ministers on the Front Bench, and remind them, as they were probably at school at the time, that they are delivering on a long-standing commitment from the 1993 Labour party conference to establish a judicial appointments commission and a supreme court? Opposition Members whinge about this being done on the back of a fag packet, as one hon. Member said, but these policies have a long and honourable provenance. Many Labour Members are delighted that they are being implemented, and look forward to the creation of a fully fledged Ministry of Justice perhaps this time next year.

I would not wish to comment on the latter part of my hon. Friend's contribution, but he has a long provenance of his own on these matters. He has written extensively on constitutional affairs, and he has long advocated many of the changes that are now moving forward. I am interested to know from Opposition Members whether they support a supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission. They do not seem to have a policy.

In an answer to me on Thursday 19 June, the Prime Minister admitted that the transfer of functions from the Lord Chancellor to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will be completed only when the position of Lord Chancellor is abolished. When will the transfer of functions order come in, and will we have to wait 18 months until the Act of Parliament that authorises it goes through?

The Ministers of the Crown Act 1975 sets out the provisions for a transfer of functions order. We anticipate that an order will come forward quickly, and that will be done in the usual way.

In the meantime, almost all the matters that the Minister has dealt with raise serious questions about the amount of money that will be made available and the accountability of the Minister and his colleague to answer those questions in the House. How can he justify answering questions on matters for which he is not directly accountable when there has been no transfer of statutory functions to him?

I can do no more than appear before the House and account for the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, which is what my hon. Friend and I are doing today. We are open to be questioned on any of these matters, and we shall continue to answer those questions.